Finding a banjo
In my first blog post I promised to post on the day I received my banjo! Now it’s here and I absolutely love it. In this blog post I’ll try to recap the process I went thru to, find a banjo that would suit my needs and that I could play for a long time – well here goes…
In my search for a banjo, I took to the internet. Like any reasonable beginner, but experienced musician and instrument buyer, I set out to find a good used banjo. Where I come from, we have an internet based classifieds called “Den Blå Avis”, which is the place, to shop for used instruments in Denmark. All too soon I realised, that I wasn’t going to find any…! The very few ads I found, were either overpriced and being sold by people who thought they’d struck gold or some crappy old junk and not worth paying for.
Discouraged I thought – well maybe I should just wait and see if something turns up? I did and a week went by without as much as a fresh add, so I started searching for used banjos in Germany instead – I live 75 km from the border and 250 km from Hamburg, which is the second largest city in Germany. It occurred to me, that used banjos in my region, were kind of expensive, so I began looking into the “brand spanking new market”.
Typing in the address of my favourite online instruments shop, 4sound.dk, I was quite surprised to find, that they only had two banjos in stock, a four and a six string – I was looking for a 5-string banjo with resonator, so I moved on to thomann.de who had a whole lot more to offer I reckoned. Having set my budget in the ballpark of 500 euros, I was optimistic and confident that I was going to find my new and unplayed banjo right here – well as you can probably figure out, that didn’t happen…! Within my budget range, thomann.de just didn’t have any really good banjos and the ones they had, were cheap Asia models with “sticker decals” from dubious brands – not going to cut it in my book. Now how could I, a novice on the banjo market, know that the banjos weren’t good banjos? Honestly, I didn’t, I had a hunch…! Google proved to me my friend once again as so often before. Typing in the various models in the google search, I came across a certain page again and again and were able to read and deduct, that the banjos I were looking at weren’t recommended buys – not even for firewood. Obviously, they contained cheap parts, were poorly built and most likely to be full of faults when taken apart. I quickly realised, that I needed to know more about how banjos are constructed, what the different parts do and how they affect sound, the importance of adjustment possibilities and finally what to avoid. I watched a bunch of you-tube videos, read a small library full of reviews and opinions and continued my search for the best buy in Europe.
To take a little step back. At thomann.de I initially found a beautiful banjo from Ibanez that seemed very nice and being a guitarist, who has always played either Gibson or Fender, I knew that Ibanez is a quality brand in guitars but also that it has cheaper models and has been known to occasionally produce some awful junk. As mentioned before, I stumbled upon a certain page quite often, and so I googled the model and found a review and discussion at banjohangout.org – they really didn’t have a lot of appraisals for the Ibanez, so I kept looking. Eventually I came across a UK based online shop, eaglemusicshop.com, where they sold banjos – al LOT of banjos!
Browsing the eagle website, I began to recognize several brands of banjos: Deering, Ozark, Tanglewood and Gold Tone, just to mention a few. I browsed, dreamed, counted my money and settled on an Ozark 2112G with a gig bag for the reasonable price of 399 pounds’ sterling plus postage. I checked with the banjohangout guys and it seemed a reasonable buy.
After sleeping on it, I placed the order and smiled – finally I was on the way to getting a banjo and of course learning to play it.
Later that day I receive an e-mail from eaglemusic.com, telling me that the Ozark 2112G was out of stock…! W H A T !!! I picked up the phone and called the company and asked what we could do? They were actually very friendly and service minded, what a relieve. We talked about some options and they offered me a discount on one of some other banjos. Mainly I got the feeling, that their preferred sale, was a Deering Goodtime that was made exclusively for their company and it did indeed sound like a good buy. Once again, I consulted banjohangout.com and read an insane amount of reviews and discussions because I kind of had my heart set on a banjo with a tone ring and the Goodtime banjo didn’t have one of those.
Feeling the frustration rise in me, I came to think of a brand, that I had noticed in a forum discussion and seen on the eagle shop. I checked it out and asked for a special price for that one. Unfortunately, it was still too expensive for me and I was really beginning to feel down and worried that I’d have to consider the Ibanez from thomann or a Fender from some other German site, that I found on the internet. Then it dawned on me – perhaps if I found some discussions that compared the different banjos, then maybe I would be able to make a better and more educated decision – back to reading and researching and reading some more….
Well, in all of the forums I visited, it seemed that people were divided into two religions. Those that believed in USA built being the only way to go and those that appreciated the option of having USA designed parts produced in some other (cheaper) country, then brought back state side, assembled, adjusted and tested, before shipping of to the shops and buyers. To me it seemed, that the people arguing that the USA built banjos were the best buy, were making emotional arguments, where the people leaning towards the USA assembled banjos, argued more from a quality point of view – meaning they seemed to care more about the features and components of a banjo. Many seemed to keep mentioning a Gold Tone BG-150F, as a comparison to the Deering Goodtime.
A lot of people arguing for the Goodtime banjo (USA Built) usually failed to mention the missing tone ring, the fact that it has no truss-rod and only one adjustment rod in the drum – but it’s made in the USA, so the quality is impeccable. I’m sure they are right, coz if you want to sell a product at twice the price of products with similar specs, your quality better be impeccable.
I started looking into the Gold Tone BG-150F and soon found out, that it had all the specs I was looking for; tone ring, truss rod, two adjustment rods in the drum, geared fifth string tuning peg, planetary tuners, flange, resonator, beauty and nice materials – I had definitely found my banjo now, only bad thing about it, was that the price tag came in a little over my budget.
I began counting my money once again, maybe I had counted them wrong the first time…? But no! I couldn’t afford it right now, so I decided to continue saving a little more, so that I would be able afford it, because the Gold Tone BG-150F was the banjo for me and I would have it no other way.
While I was waiting for the money to grow I surfed the internet and found an online store that was a little cheaper, and had a very nice service – I actually think I ended up saving around 15% compared to the price at eaglemusic.
The shop I found is called banjos.com and is physically based both in the US and Europe (Spain). I wrote an e-mail to the store and asked if the banjo was in stock and was told that it was. Besides being very good at English, the guy, Cesar, was very kind and helpful and answered my every e-mail almost immediately too – and I sent a “few”. Along the way I also learned, that the hard case from Gold Tone (TKL) was about 35% cheaper at banjos.com compared to eaglemusic – this was out of stock though so I went for the padded luxury gig bag. The postage was also cheaper than at eaglemusic, and all in all, I got the best buy, for my money. Oh yes money! They have a way of presenting themselves, when truly needed.
Now all I have to do is unwrap my banjo and start playing – Let’s Banjo